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With opening day of the statewide season just three weeks away, Kentucky turkey hunters can look forward to encountering gobblers of all ages this spring.
“There will be a higher than average number of jakes (juvenile gobblers) compared to the 2-year-olds and older adult gobblers in our flocks,” said Steven Dobey, wild turkey program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We should have another good spring season.”
Youth hunters ages 15 and younger have the first opportunity to hunt spring turkeys on April 6-7.
The general season opens the following weekend, always on the Saturday closest to April 15 and lasts 23 days. This year's general season dates are April 13 through May 5.
Kentucky's turkey flock is estimated to number about 250,000 birds.
“In many areas of the state, carrying capacities have been reached,” said Dobey. “But there's still room for flocks to expand in eastern Kentucky, where there's available habitat and food resources. The mountain counties have good numbers of birds and fewer hunters.”
During the last five seasons, hunters in Kentucky have taken on average about 31,486 birds each spring. “Kentucky ranked no. 1 among all seven surrounding states in 2012 for the number of birds taken per square mile of habitat, followed closely by Tennessee and Missouri,” said Dobey.
Last spring hunters bagged 33,068 bearded turkeys, 89 percent of which had beards six inches or longer. It was the third year in a row that the harvest exceeded 30,000 birds. The record spring harvest total occurred in 2010, when hunters telechecked 36,097 birds.
Hunter success rates have remained consistent, too. “Over the past 10 years, about 35 percent of hunters have taken at least one bird during the spring season and 75 percent of our successful hunters typically telechecked one bird.” said Dobey.
The bag limit for the spring season is two bearded turkeys.
Last year's drought had minimal impact on turkey reproduction since it intensified during the summer months, after nesting was completed.
“Statewide, our surveys rated nesting success as moderate to good, with 1.8 poults per hen. While I hoped to see a higher number, that was an improvement over 2011,” said Dobey.
He said another indication of improved reproduction was a seven percent increase in the harvest of sub-adult male birds during the 2012 fall season.
Kentucky turkey hunters should have a productive spring season when they slip on their mesh face masks, get their slate calls scratched and ready and hit the turkey woods.
Art Lander Jr. has been writing about the outdoors since the 1970s. He is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine.